Friday, 17 May 2019

Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe: Early Christian cursing of (and with) the devil

Powerful daimones of various types (from corpse daimones to assistants) were regularly invoked in texts of ritual power in the Greco-Roman / Egyptian tradition on papyrus and other materials, to help lovelorn and ambitious clients achieve their goals. Daimones were also - albeit less often - sometimes the targets of 'magic', in texts and rituals of exorcism and protection. This paper will examine a range of late antique textual and material evidence for both the deployment and the targetting of the devil and his daimones in curses by Christians, both within the ecclesiastical sphere by clerics and monks in pedagogical and liturgical contexts, as well as in a broader cultural context of ritual practice. It will explore the varying degrees to which the devil was directly cursed, invoked as an archetype of cursing or being cursed, or invoked - directly or not - to help in the cursing of others. As such, it will contribute to our understanding of the range of contemporary Christian attitudes to Satan, from the archetypal enemy to a hostile but limited power. It will also illuminate the structures and agency of Christian cursing itself, in relation to a broader set of cultural and ritual practices; what kinds of creatures were the targets of cursing, and what were the intended aims and techniques involved in cursing them? In so doing, I hope also to explore some of the benefits and problems of examining an etic category such as 'cursing' in this context.

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